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The Westward Expansion of Presbyterianism

As Presbyterians, all Presbyterian history is our history. Those who have gone before, regardless of their denomination, have had an effect and have left a testimony which affects the work of ministry today. Whether they sowed the good seed of the Gospel or whether they turned their hand from the plow, we today work that same soil. The faithful proclamation of the Gospel will always be difficult, but what others have done before us can and does affect the work today. Thus the importance of history–to know the work done before and to build upon that work in the wisest ways.

mcmillanJohnThe Presbytery of Redstone was an historic PCUSA Presbytery, the first court of that denomination west of the Allegheny mountains. The organization of this Presbytery marked the beginning of the Church’s occupation of the great valley of the Mississippi. The field actually occupied was, geographically, the key to the great westward expansion. This was the section of the country extending from the base of the mountains westward to Fort Pitt and the Forks of the Wheeling, comprising the southwestern region of Pennsylvania, together with an adjoining section of West Virginia. It can rightly be said that it was from this Presbytery that the PCUSA began to expand across the nation until at last it reached the Pacific ocean.

Pictured at right, the Rev. John McMillan, one of the leading ministers in the Presbytery of Redstone.

The Presbytery of Redstone was organized on May 16th, 1781, by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, in answer to a request from missionaries who were then serving west of the Alleghenies.  1781 was the closing year of the Revolutionary War and the Presbytery was formed but a month before the surrender of British forces at Yorktown.

After the division of what was termed the Old Synod inn 1788, the Presbytery of Redstone formed part of the Synod of Virginia, up until 1802, at which time the Synod of Pittsburgh was formed. With rapid growth, the Presbytery then divided in 1793 to create the Presbytery of Ohio. A later division in 1830 created the Presbytery of Blairsville.

The men who formed this Presbytery were Scotch-Irish settlers who were used to hardships and wilderness life, yet who were also resolute in their Reformed faith. The pastors numbered among the first members of Redstone were all well-educated men, most of whom had graduated from Princeton College. “Taken collectively, they were a body of well disciplined, orthodox and devoted ministers.” Among them, Thaddeus Dod, James Dunlap, Thomas Marquis, Elisha McCurdy, John McMillan, Joseph Patterson, and James Power. Among Redstone’s first ruling elders, many were notable men in business, government, and education.

Cumulatively, their influence was such that in most of the churches of western Pennsylvania, and in many churches throughout the western States in later years, a large part of the effective membership of those churches consisted of the descendants of those first ministers and elders whose names are found in the early records of the Presbytery of Redstone.

A history of the Presbytery was published in 1854, under the title of Old Redstone. And in 1878, the minutes of the Presbytery up to that point were gathered together in a published volume of over 400 pages. In 1881 the Presbytery held a centennial celebration, an occasion held jointly with some of the surrounding PCUSA Presbyteries of Pittsburgh, Washington, Blairsville and West Virginia.

There are actually a good number of published histories for Presbyteries in both the PCUS (aka, Southern Presbyterian Church, 1861-1983) and the PCUSA [1789-1958]. By comparison, we have preserved at the PCA Historical Center a few brief sketches that have been written for some of the PCA presbyteries. But the PCA is still a young denomination and I am sure that more such work will be done in the coming years. Off-hand I don’t know of any histories that may have been written for OPC or ARP presbyteries, outside of larger denominational histories.

Something to Consider:
For all the practical value of church history, at the root of it all, we value our history as a record of what God has done in our midst. The history of the Church in all its parts is a testimony to our risen Lord who has redeemed us and who has employed us in His kingdom, to His greater glory.

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The Westward Expansion of Presbyterianism

As Presbyterians, all Presbyterian history is our history. Those who have gone before, regardless of their denomination, have had an effect and have left a testimony which affects the work of ministry today. Whether they sowed the good seed of the Gospel or whether they turned their hand from the plow, we today work that same soil. The faithful proclamation of the Gospel will always be difficult, but what others have done before us can and does affect the work today. Thus the importance of history–to know the work done before and to build upon that work in the wisest ways.

mcmillanJohnThe Presbytery of Redstone was an historic PCUSA Presbytery, the first court of that denomination west of the Allegheny mountains. The organization of this Presbytery marked the beginning of the Church’s occupation of the great valley of the Mississippi. The field actually occupied was, geographically, the key to the great westward expansion. This was the section of the country extending from the base of the mountains westward to Fort Pitt and the Forks of the Wheeling, comprising the southwestern region of Pennsylvania, together with an adjoining section of West Virginia. It can rightly be said that it was from this Presbytery that the PCUSA began to expand across the nation until at last it reached the Pacific ocean.

Pictured at right, the Rev. John McMillan, one of the leading ministers in the Presbytery of Redstone.

The Presbytery of Redstone was organized on May 16th, 1781, by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, in answer to a request from missionaries who were then serving west of the Alleghenies.  1781 was the closing year of the Revolutionary War and the Presbytery was formed but a month before the surrender of British forces at Yorktown.

After the division of what was termed the Old Synod inn 1788, the Presbytery of Redstone formed part of the Synod of Virginia, up until 1802, at which time the Synod of Pittsburgh was formed. With rapid growth, the Presbytery then divided in 1793 to create the Presbytery of Ohio. A later division in 1830 created the Presbytery of Blairsville.

The men who formed this Presbytery were Scotch-Irish settlers who were used to hardships and wilderness life, yet who were also resolute in their Reformed faith. The pastors numbered among the first members of Redstone were all well-educated men, most of whom had graduated from Princeton College. “Taken collectively, they were a body of well disciplined, orthodox and devoted ministers.” Among them, Thaddeus Dod, James Dunlap, Thomas Marquis, Elisha McCurdy, John McMillan, Joseph Patterson, and James Power. Among Redstone’s first ruling elders, many were notable men in business, government, and education.

Cumulatively, their influence was such that in most of the churches of western Pennsylvania, and in many churches throughout the western States in later years, a large part of the effective membership of those churches consisted of the descendants of those first ministers and elders whose names are found in the early records of the Presbytery of Redstone.

A history of the Presbytery was published in 1854, under the title of Old Redstone. And in 1878, the minutes of the Presbytery up to that point were gathered together in a published volume of over 400 pages. In 1881 the Presbytery held a centennial celebration, an occasion held jointly with some of the surrounding PCUSA Presbyteries of Pittsburgh, Washington, Blairsville and West Virginia.

There are actually a good number of published histories for Presbyteries in both the PCUS (aka, Southern Presbyterian Church, 1861-1983) and the PCUSA [1789-1958]. By comparison, we have preserved at the PCA Historical Center a few brief sketches that have been written for some of the PCA presbyteries. But the PCA is still a young denomination and I am sure that more such work will be done in the coming years. Off-hand I don’t know of any histories that may have been written for OPC or ARP presbyteries, outside of larger denominational histories. 

Something to Consider:
For all the practical value of church history, at the root of it all, we value our history as a record of what God has done in our midst. The history of the Church in all its parts is a testimony to our risen Lord who has redeemed us and who has employed us in His kingdom, to His greater glory.

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Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” (Gen. 13:2, ESV)

William E. Dodge, who became a prominent elder in the Presbyterian Church, was born in Hartford, Connecticut on September 4, 1805, his father being a cotton manufacturer, near Norwich, in that State. After attending the common school, William worked awhile in his father’s mill, and then, the family having removed to New York, the lad of thirteen entered a wholesale dry goods store, where he remained until he attained adulthood. From that point he engaged in the same business, but on his own account, and continued in this line until 1833, when he became a member of the firm of Phelps, Dodge & Co. This firm was engaged in the importation of tin plate, pig tin and copper, and soon became the largest company in the country pursuing this trade. Mr. Dodge retained an interest in the company until 1881, and even up until the time of his death would frequently visit his old office.

Mr. Dodge was both shrewd and industrious, and his business career was one of almost unbroken prosperity. As time progressed, he became interested in many other enterprises, and was director in a number of railroad and insurance corporations. He was one of the largest owners of lumber lands, lumber and mill interests, in the United States, possessing large tracts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, West Virginia, Texas, and Canada. He was also extensively interested in the development of coal and iron interests throughout the country.

It was, however, as a Christian and philanthropist that Mr. Dodge was most distinguished. He early became interested in the Temperance movement, and his consistency was proved by his resignation from the Union League Club, because it served wine at its banquets. He was president of the American National Temperance Society and the Temperance Christian Home for Men. He was also a Trustee of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a Director of the Presbyterian Hospital, a Trustee of Lincoln University, and Vice-President of the American Board of Foreign Missions. He was a devoted friend of the Sabbath, and resigned his directorship of the Central Railroad of New Jersey because the company began to run trains on Sundays. The education of the freedmen greatly interested him, and he assisted many societies, working in their behalf. His contributions in some years averaged $1000 a day, while for several years before his death they never fell below $200,000 annually.

His life was one of cheerful industry. Nothing in the way of duty was irksome–rather, it was a pleasure to be enjoyed, and the smile, so genial and loving, with which his friends were always greated, was merely an honest reflection of his heart. Immersed in business that assumed wide range and vast proportions, he kept his soul serene in the light of heaven, so that the cares of the world, the love of money, and sordid greed had no dominion over his buoyant spirit. More than the Presidency of the Chamber of Commerce, he loved the Sunday-school room, the House of God, the prayer meeting, and the chamber of the suffering whose wants he might relieve. His delight was in making glad the hearts of the poor.

Mr. Dodge’s whole career was exceptionally one of success, honor and usefulness. He died at his residence, in New York, on February 9, 1883, leaving, by his will, $360,000 for religious and charitable purposes. His demise was greatly lamented, not only by his own denomination, but by the friends of education, virtue, morality and religion, of every name, and he left a record that is lustrous with all that is noble and excellent in human character in its highest development.

Words to Live By:
Yesterday we spoke of the need to use our resources sacrificially, to the glory of God. Providentially, here today is an example of such a one who lived quite successfully, but who also gave freely of his time and substance. Again we have to ask the question, How am I using the resources that God has given me? The world of business is an honorable calling for a Christian, but it is a terrible thing to be trapped by the cares of the world, the love of money, and sordid greed. The best way of avoiding those traps is to recognize from the start that it all belongs to the Lord, and to be actively, daily, engaged in meeting the needs of others. Or as one dear saint, a very prosperous and generous man, used to say, “I just keep trying to out-give God.”

[Our post today is drawn somewhat freely from Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia, with the entry for the Hon. William E. Dodge appearing on pages 192-193 of that work.]

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

A Chaplain of the Stonewall Brigade

It was said that no danger deferred him; no sacrifices were too great for him to make.

The year was 1862. For those living in that section of Virginia now bordered as present day West Virginia, the great civil war was an imminent and daily reality of danger and disruption. It was a time of separation from family, soldiers on long distance marches, and life-threatening casualties from battle. And Stonewall Jackson always had his fair share of them.  Into this scene, Abner Crump Hopkins entered.

Born in 1835 in Powhatan County, Virginia, young Abner was educated at Hampden-Sydney College, graduating in 1855 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Whatever was used of the Holy Spirit to call him into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we do not know. But we do know that he was born again after his collegiate years.  With a call to be a minister, Abner entered Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia during the years of 1857-1860. Licensed and ordained by East Hanover and Winchester Presbyteries, he took the congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Martinsburg, Virginia. It was evidently a happy ministry until Federal troops invaded the town.  Leaving behind family and friends, Abner Hopkins was commissioned as a Confederate chaplain by the Second Virginia Infantry Regiment on May 3, 1862.

Right at the very beginning, Chaplain Hopkins made it his determination to share the suffering, marches, and perils of the men in the regiment.  Indeed he was so successful in this determination to be faithful always in his post of duty that the officers and  men of his regiment, and other units, sought him out for spiritual comfort. Opportunities to proclaim the gospel of grace came frequently from nightly prayer meetings at headquarters as well as on the Sabbath, which brought many souls into the kingdom.

On two occasions during the war, the hardships of this life and ministry produced emotional and physical breakdowns which set him apart from his military “congregation.”  But after times of rest and recovery, he always returned to the military  to further minister God’s Word. He was a part of the great “revival” which took place in the Southern army, especially during the latter part of the War.

After the close of the war, he returned to the civilian world as a pastor. His longest pastorate was in the Charleston area of West Virginia, where he was faithful in one congregation for forty-five years.  He was known all over the South, in that he served one year as the moderator of the 1903 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. He died in 1911.

Further study :
The grave site of the Rev. Abner Crump Hopkins.
His diary is preserved at the Virginia Historical Society Library. The diary contains entries describing participation of the Second Virginia Infantry Regiment in the battles of the Seven Days’, Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Bristoe Station, and 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns.

Also on this day :
May 3, 1895 marks the birthday of Cornelius Van Til, born this day in 1895 in the Netherlands. For more on Dr. Van Til, including a photographic retrospective, click here.

Words to Live By:   How important it is to pray now for future difficult situations in your family or work or congregation, so that you will be faithful to the Word of the Lord and His will when the time of those difficult situations arrive.

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 67 – 69

Through the Standards: Sanctification: its subjects, ground, agent, and effect

WCF 13:1
“They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created n them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them, the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man will see the Lord.”

WLC 75 — “What is sanctification?
A.  Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise  unto newness of life.”

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